Facebook may have spent $2bn buying virtual reality firm Oculus VR last year but the company’s CTO is warning now is not the time for businesses to invest heavily in virtual reality (VR).
When advertisers ask Mike Schroepfer what they should be doing to prepare for VR he said he tells them “nothing”.
“Every advertiser I talk to who says ‘What should we be doing on VR?’, I say ‘Nothing right now, just wait until there’s more people using it’,” said the Facebook CTO.
“It will be a very small install base in 2016 across the industry, between us and the others,” he said in a nod to both Facebook’s Oculus Rift and competing headsets due out from HTC, Sony and others.
Virtual reality allows users to traverse 3D spaces by donning a headset that tracks their head movements and allows them to look around a 3D computer-generated world. VR headsets are yet to go mainstream, but next year will see the release of the consumer version of the Oculus Rift – the headset credited with kickstarting a resurgence of interest in VR.
Schroepfer’s expectations for VR mirror those of Facebook CEO and founder Mark Zuckerberg, who in an investors call warned that it would take years for VR headsets to become as popular as smartphones are today.
“Compare it to the development of previous computing platforms, like phones and computers, I think the first smartphones came out in 2003,” he said.
“In the first year, I think BlackBerry and Palm Treo were the initial smartphones that came out. I think they each sold in the hundreds of thousands of units. So just to kind of give a sense of the time frame that we’re thinking about this and how we expect this to develop, that’s how we’re thinking.”
Schroepfer also believes that VR headsets will grow to be as popular phones are today but that it’s important not to mislead people on the rate of adoption.
“I’m incredibly bullish on VR but it’s a brand new platform and it will take a while to develop.
“Part of what we’re trying to avoid that has happened with other things is that people over hype them, they get too excited saying everyone’s going to be doing this.
“VR is going to be a very small segment of enthusiasts and early adopters next year.”
In the long run Schroepfer expects VR to be used by in many companies, not just for virtual telepresence – which he said would allow participants to better gauge whether a person is really listening – but also for industry-specific tasks.
“There are lots of vertical applications for this, whether it be simulation or experience-based,” he said.
“Real estate developers building a new condo-building spend ten million dollars building a new sales centre with giant plasma screens so I can go in and see each apartment.”
In contrast a VR headset would allow prospective buyers to explore the building virtually, to “peer out of my kitchen windows and see what the view is like.”
“That’s a better experience than looking at it on a screen because I can move around.”
Oculus VR has two headsets due out, the first in November when it will release the consumer edition of the Gear VR, which enables the user to snap in a Samsung Galaxy Note 4 or S6 phone to create a head-mounted display.
Then, in the first quarter of next year, it will release the Oculus Rift, a head mounted display that plugs into a PC and – providing your computer has the graphics hardware to power it – will render 3D content at across a 2160 x 1200 resolution screen.
Another immersive peripheral for the Rift that was recently revealed was the Oculus Touch, a pair of controllers that track the user’s hands and fingers and allow them to manipulate items within virtual reality.